TAMPA — There are different ways to go about beating the Saints and their video-game offense. None of them are easy.
You can attempt to outscore them, conceding the Saints will get their points (good luck with that).
Or you can give quarterback Drew Brees your best shot with a physical, ball-hawking defensive effort.
This is the route the Bucs went Sunday, and the plan couldn't have been executed better. Tampa Bay forced four turnovers and held the Saints to 42 percent on third downs — well below their league-leading average (56 percent).
All told, the Bucs had the perfect answer for an offense that often seems impossible to hold in check.
"We're streaky, I guess. We're like John Starks," said coach Raheem Morris, referencing the New York Knicks' famously hot-and-cold jump shooter.
"We come out hot some days, and some days we're not. But (Sunday) we are on fire and back in, we got the hop-step we've been missing the last couple of weeks, and that's what we've got to be. We've got to be opportunistic, and that's what we do. You know stats are for losers — except interceptions."
The Bucs had three of those, including Quincy Black's game-clincher in the end zone with 3:14 remaining. The Bucs also got interceptions from safety Tanard Jackson, in his first game back from a yearlong suspension, and cornerback E.J. Biggers. A fourth turnover came when Geno Hayes stripped running back Pierre Thomas of the ball and Da'Quan Bowers recovered for Tampa Bay, setting up an early field goal.
With the Saints squandering so many possessions with turnovers, they had fewer opportunities to score. That proved to be the difference.
"I thought they played great," Brees said of the Bucs defense. "They took the ball away four times, which, if you can do that, you're going to win a lot of games. We gave it away four times, and we got it none. … The fact of the matter is that'll get you beat."
The third-down stops also were key Sunday. The Saints often make some of their biggest plays on third down, but New Orleans converted just three of their first eight third-down attempts and finished 5-of-12 for the game. This came one week after the Saints were successful on 71 percent (12-of-17) of third downs in a win over the Panthers.
One of the most encouraging aspects of the Bucs performance was the offense's ability to capitalize on the defense's efforts.
The Bucs scored 10 of their 26 points off turnovers. In addition to Bowers' fumble recovery at the New Orleans 33, a second-quarter touchdown pass to Preston Parker was set up by Jackson's interception return to the Saints 25.
And the game was iced after the offense held the ball for the final 3:16 following Black's critical interception. A 17-yard third-down strike from Josh Freeman to Dezmon Briscoe picked up the first down that sealed the win.
"Our defense played great and gave us a chance to win," Freeman said. "When your defense does that, you've got to be happy. With three interceptions, especially at the end, that's huge. I think coach Raheem (Morris) called a great game. I think our guys came out and executed."
Said cornerback Ronde Barber: "We didn't have any turnovers on offense, and we had four on defense. That's a winning formula if you ask me."